Earlier this month, Democratic Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon insisted that he and his office got blindsided by the nation’s biggest ObamaCare exchange flop, Cover Oregon. The web portal never successfully launched despite Kitzhaber’s claims that Oregon would lead the nation in ObamaCare implementation and expertise — and staked his reputation as a physician on it. Oddly, though, when the program collapsed, Kitzhaber told everyone, including KATU-TV, that he had not been told of any problems until they arose. When KATU tried to press Kitzhaber on that point, one of his aides brought a quick close to the interview.
That prompted more digging by KATU, which found numerous reports sent to Kitzhaber’s office predicting the collapse of the system long before its rollout. The discoveries make Kitzhaber look a lot less than honest or a lot less than competent, or both:
The claim was incredible because the website had already missed its Oct. 1 launch date. Kitzhaber was, in effect, saying he didn’t know there were problems until weeks after one of the most important projects under his watch had already failed.
It was incredible because mountains of reports from the state’s quality-assurance contractor had been raising glaring red flags for almost two years.
It was incredible because the state had implemented a stringent set of checks and balances for the specific purpose of making sure the project didn’t spiral without people in power knowing.
And it was incredible because the KATU Investigators have unearthed emails and conducted interviews laying out repeated attempts by lawmakers and others involved with the project to get Kitzhaber’s help in righting what was clearly a sinking ship.
KATU’s review of thousands of pages of emails and reports, as well as interviews with many of the key people involved, suggest that either Kitzhaber knew more than he has acknowledged, or that he and his staff somehow remained oblivious to the unfolding disaster despite numerous attempts to bring it to their attention.
The documents also make hash of Kitzhaber’s argument that he had no way of knowing what happened:
From the outset, project oversight was designed to be headed by the governor’s office.
The KATU Investigators obtained an organizational chart illustrating the oversight structure. At the top is the governor’s office, to which several different groups report.
The documents had some odd redactions, which Kitzhaber’s office refused to explain. Instead, KATU simply went around them and talked to the people involved. That produced this smoking gun:
On Sept. 20, 2012, Richardson emailed Kitzhaber to say that he was concerned not only about the alarming findings in Maximus’ reports, but by the fact the warnings seemed to be going unheeded by all involved.
“If you were the investor and I your legal counsel, I would be advising you that the QA report makes it abundantly clear, the HIX-IT project is on a path toward failure and disgrace,” he wrote.
“Since HIX-IT leadership continues to ignore warnings from me, the QA and (the Legislative Fiscal Office), the success of this project and responsibility for the $59 million invested in it rests on your shoulders as Governor and the Executive Branch’s C.E.O.”
Richardson also reached out to Goldberg and Department of Administrative Services COO Michael Jordan.
Goldberg emailed Richardson back on Sept 22: “I have discussed with the Governor’s office this morning and we will be pulling together the staff from both the Health Insurance Exchange Corporation and the IT side of things within the Oregon Health Authority this coming week to address.”
Richardson said he called the governor several days later because he had received no response, and Kitzhaber then returned his call.
“He assured me that he understands the severity of the situation and that he will talk with Goldberg directly and get this taken care of,” Richardson told KATU.
This video runs about 22 minutes, and it’s worth watching all the way through. It’s amazing, mostly so because of the completely inept manner in which Kitzhaber handled both Cover Oregon and the failure itself. One of the biggest lessons from Watergate and a myriad of other political scandals is this: It’s not the crime, it’s the cover-up. The cover-up in this case started well before the rollout of ObamaCare, and continued as late as now even when it became obvious that Kitzhaber had to know more than he admitted.
This video absolutely destroys Kitzhaber’s credibility, and the project itself.
Update: I didn’t notice this at first, but KATU played “Name That Party” in its otherwise excellent report. Kitzhaber is a Democrat, and I’ve edited the opening sentence to reflect that.